One drawback to the unbalanced NHL schedule is the Maple Leafs likely have seen the last of one of the league's most consistent players, Steve Yzerman, in the past 20 years.
In a lengthy interview with the Detroit News this week, Yzerman discussed the clear possibility this season, his 23rd in the NHL, will be his last.
"I have no plans to retire in the near future," Yzerman said. "But the plan could change. I don't want to say much more, other than (retirement) is something to ponder."
Yzerman's class came through again when he recently pulled himself out of consideration for Canada's Olympic team. Where others may have tried to believe otherwise, Yzerman knew he could not have properly represented his country.
Yzerman's 20 years as the Red Wings captain is the longest such tenure in NHL history. Though he wants nothing more than to finish the season, at 40, Yzerman realizes there is a chance he could call it a career before the season ends.
"I don't think it's preposterous to say that," Yzerman said. "I think that just comes with the territory for anybody at a certain stage of their career. You start thinking about things. You can't help it, particularly on a day when you're not thrilled with how it's going. It creeps more into you then. But for the most part, I'm enjoying it. I don't want to make it an issue because we're trying to win games.
"When I decide to retire, it's going to be because I can't compete hard enough, or I'm not effective enough, to warrant a position on the team."
Meanwhile, one of Yzerman's teammates, Brendan Shanahan, seems to have played himself back into Olympic contention for Canada. But Shanahan, whose sense of humour is at the top among NHL players, claimed to be looking ahead.
"The next Olympics in Whistler (and Vancouver in 2010) are my focus," Shanahan said. "I was thinking bobsled. If (Chris Chelios) can bankroll Team Greece, I can bankroll Team Ireland. Buy my way into the Olympics like Cheli tried to do (in 2002)."
New ground for Crosby
Sidney Crosby said he has never played for a team that did not make the playoffs but it's hard to see how that won't change this season. If Crosby does not play for Canada at the Olympics, he likely will do so at the world championship in the spring. It's almost inconceivable the Pittsburgh Penguins will rebound from a start that has seen them win seven of 28 games and make the playoffs.
Crosby is trying to draw on what he experienced a year ago, when his Rimouski Oceanic started poorly in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before winning the league title and losing to the London Knights in the Memorial Cup final.
"The lesson I learned from that experience is that the season is long, and anything can happen," Crosby said. "We had a bad start, really similar to the way it is here. You don't know what other teams are going to do, so if you worry about yourself some teams will go through some times that are hard, as well. You can't give up."
The Penguins are last in the Eastern Conference with 20 points and are 13 points behind the Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot.
Tkachuk digs in
The highest-paid player on the St. Louis Blues has no goal but to help his club start breathing again.
Keith Tkachuk, who pulls in $7.6 million US, said he would invoke his no-trade clause if the Blues tried to deal him.
"I expect to be here," Tkachuk said. "I have a no-trade clause and I'm not leaving. I want to work our way out of this. I don't know what's going to happen, but I love it here. I'm going to live here the rest of my life. It's just a great place to raise a family. You're not getting rid of us."
Tkachuk, who was suspended by the team in training camp for showing up out of shape, has played in only seven games because of injuries. But he has five goals and six assists.
The Blues bring up the rear in the NHL with 13 points.
Young Jay Bouwmeester has not had the kind of effect many thought he would early in his career, but the Florida Panthers defenceman is making progress.
"He's really moving the puck up the ice," Panthers TV analyst and Hall of Fame defenceman Denis Potvin. "He has got that ability that very few people have and he's using it better. You see him go in deeper, you see him go behind the net. His game has improved at least 50% based on the fact his game doesn't stop in the neutral zone anymore. A lot of that is confidence."
In 30 games, the 22-year-old Bouwmeester has nine assists.
Michael Peca spent just three seasons with the New York Islanders but left a positive mark. In each of those three years the Isles earned a playoff berth after missing the post-season in each of the seven seasons prior to Peca's arrival.
Peca is back on Long Island tonight for the first time with the Edmonton Oilers. Peca was traded to the Oilers by the Isles in August for Mike York and a draft pick.
"There is absolutely no ill feelings between me and the Islanders," Peca said.
"It was a business decision. I still have a large debt of gratitude that I owe toward (general manager) Mike (Milbury) and the organization for what they did for me.
"It was satisfying that we kind of turned the corner after a lot of years of not being in the playoffs."
The Boston Bruins are on pace for 68 points, which would be their second-lowest total since 1967 ... The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are said to be shopping forward Petr Sykora ... Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella gave his players three complete days off during a lull in the schedule this past week. "They get sick of looking at the coaches and vice versa," the Lightning coach said. "It's human nature when you're with one another in situations of emotions and teaching and grinding. You get sick of people. Sometimes they get sick of me and I (get) sick of them."